Washington’s wolf population grew in 2021 for the 13th consecutive year, showing a 16% increase from the previous year, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said Saturday.
As of Dec. 31, 2021, the department said there were 206 wolves in 33 packs in Washington. Nineteen of these were successful breeding pairs. This is up from 178 wolves in 29 packs and 16 breeding pairs in the 2020 count.
“Washington’s wolves continue to progress toward recovery, with four new packs documented in four different counties of the state in 2021,” Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind said in a news release.
This is a minimum count, so the actual number of wolves in Washington is higher, the agency said. Since the department's first wolf survey in 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown by an average of 25% per year.
Four new packs formed in 2021, including the Columbia Pack in Columbia County, the Keller Ridge Pack in Ferry County, the Dominion Pack in Stevens County, and the Shady Pass Pack in Chelan County. The Naneum Pack was not located during the survey and was removed from the tally, the agency said.
Wolves were wiped out in Washington in the early decades of the last century. But the animals began to move back into the state earlier this century from Canada and Idaho. The return of the animals has sparked numerous conflicts with ranchers, especially in northeastern Washington state where most of the wolves live.
Eight of the wolf packs were involved in known livestock depredations last year, the agency said. Six of the eight were involved in two or fewer events each.
As a result of depredations, two wolves from the Columbia Pack were killed in 2021, one by the department and one by a landowner with a permit to lethally remove a wolf, the agency said.
“Although wolf-livestock interactions have remained consistent, we recorded the lowest number of livestock depredation incidents in the state since 2017 and removed the fewest wolves in response to conflict since 2015,” said the department's wolf policy lead, Julia Smith.
“We’re committed to promoting the proactive use of non-lethal deterrents to minimize wolf-livestock conflict," Smith said.
Since 1980, gray wolves have been listed under state law as endangered throughout Washington.
In January 2021, wolves were delisted from federal Endangered Species Act protection and the department resumed statewide management of the species. But this February, wolves were federally relisted in the western two-thirds of the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service once again took the lead role in their recovery in those areas.